September 11, 2018


The Limits of Obama's Legacy (JAMELLE BOUIE, SEPT 11, 2018, Slate)

[O]bama does believe that these restrictions aren't onerous enough to stop those who truly want to participate. "The notion that somehow voter suppression is keeping you from voting, as systemic as Republicans have tried to make voting more difficult for minorities, for Democrats, for young people, the truth of the matter is, if you actually want to vote, then you can vote," he said in that 2016 interview. He echoed that sentiment in his Illinois address, when he told students that "the biggest threat to our democracy is indifference. The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism." [...]

A more forgiving attitude toward those who don't vote--and a greater recognition of obstacles to the ballot--may not fit with Obama's vision of civic engagement and responsibility. But it does speak to feelings of disenchantment and disengagement that proved ruinous for Democrats in the last two national elections. Democratic apathy in 2014 contributed to Republican Senate gains; Democratic apathy (and voter suppression) in 2016 helped Donald Trump become president, giving Republicans an opportunity to undermine Obama's legislative and regulatory accomplishments. Talking about voter suppression may not energize voters, but downplaying it rings false. Greater engagement with the problem--even using it to center a voting-rights agenda--may have proved more effective this cycle than essentially trying to shame Americans into voting.

You can understand Barack Obama's return to electoral politics as a commentary on the stakes of the moment; control of Congress will have profound implications for democratic accountability and the direction of American governance, to say nothing of President Trump's personal fortunes. Looking beyond the question of the current White House occupant, Obama's return is also an opportunity to think through and even complicate his political legacy and the ways in which he expanded the realm of the possible for candidates of color, and black Democrats in particular.

He did this, in part, by merging a rhetoric of unity with one of responsibility and respectability. He motivated and he moralized. But protest movements like Black Lives Matter and a heightened sense of the limits of moralizing have made "respectability" unfashionable. His political successors have rejected it entirely, absorbing the basic insight of Obama's career--that black candidates can win decisively in white electorates--and pushing beyond the boundaries set by the former president.

That evolution is what's striking about the present moment and why Democrats across the country are watching Georgia and Florida with a close eye. These are black Democrats running unambiguously progressive campaigns in traditionally conservative states, where black politicians have failed to make serious inroads.

His legacy is moderate Republican.

Posted by at September 11, 2018 9:14 PM